Friday, April 06, 2007

The Way of Land

What is דֶּרֶךְֿ אֶרֶץ?

We usually use the term derekh eretz to mean mentšlixkeit (menschlichkeit) — being a polite, caring member of society; following communal norms and mores; acting as a member of a civilization.

There are many examples of this in Jewish religious literature;
here's one from R' Shelomo Yarhhi/Yitzhhaqi's commentary on
Shemot/Exodus 19:8
Did Moshe really need to bring back the nation's response to God? [Of course not!] The text is just coming to teach you derekh eretz from Moshe, who did not say, "since the One who sent me already knows, there's no need to bring back the response."
Moshe is fulfilling his duty, acting in his assigned role as intermediary even though it's only really necessary in one direction.

R' Shamson [ben] Refa’eil Hirsch's philosophy of Torah ‘im Derekh Eretz understands the term to mean not only proper behavior in and among society (both Jewish and Non-Jewish), but also general education about the world.

We find another meaning of derekh eretz in the Tanakh, where both Yehoshua‘ and David Hamelekh describe their impending death as "walking bederekh kol ha’aretz" — 'in the way of all the land'.

Maybe their warning their followers/successors that they're about to depart is the 'polite' thing to do, but how is death derekh eretz?

Complicating the picture even more, we have the following interpretation on Bereishit/Genesis 4:1 in Bereishit Raba:
“And the man had known [Hhava, his wife, and then she became pregant, and gave birth...]”

R' Huna and R' Ya‘aqov beribbí Avin in the name of R' Aba bar Kahana said:
No creature ever had intercourse before First Adam...
he publicized derekh eretz to all.
So not only does derekh eretz mean death — it means life/sex/reproduction as well?!

It seems to me that what דרך ארץ basically means is that which keeps life/society/civilization running normally. Part of that is how we interact with each other; part of it is earning a living; part of it is understanding the world. And of course, part of it is the cycle of life and death. Death happens. It's part of how the world works — and a necessary part of it — no matter how much it hurts. And on the other side, so is sex. Even with all the taboos we have surrounding the process of reproduction — the forbidden pairings, tum’a of bodily fluids, and modesty restrictions on objects and actions — Yahadut still tells us that sex, the creation of new life, is a part of life. And not just a necessary part of life — a normal part of life.

The midrash of Maggid in the Haggada, in expanding upon the Short Summary of Israelite History known as the Bikurim Text, explains...
...and then [God] saw our affliction...

This is the separation from derekh eretz, as was said:
And then God saw the Israelites, and then God knew.
The separation of the Israelites from normal life, from marital relations, from reproduction (whether according to the midrash about ‘Amram and Miryam or according to a peshatic extrapolation based on the realia of slavery) is here also called a separation from derekh eretz — but what's the connection to the particular prooftext offered? As my brother pointed out over the First Days, the pasuq ends וידע אלהים. God knew that Beney Yisra’eil could know longer "know" each other intimately in the way that Adam and Hhava 'knew' each other and gave birth to the human race. Miryam and the women under the apple trees had to 'jump start' this knowledge in order so that ‘Am Yisra’eil could be born.


Blogger Halfnutcase said...

oooh, so much to say.

firsty an oddity regarding death as derech eretz (and a bit of a pun at that):

It was known that rabbah was so involved in torah that even the angel of death could not over power him, but if death is derech eretz and without derech eretz there is no torah then how was rabba's torah capable of preventing him from dying? :-)

and if death is derech eretz and eliyahu did not die then how did he have torah to teach the baal shem tov? (or anyone else!) and how will he answer our torah questions when he comes?

and dude, torah doesn't just say that married men and womens actions are natural and desireable, it says that they are fundementaly the holy, and not only holy but the holy of holies.

(hence why znut is so unholy)

and while I'm on that topic you may find this rather interesting: I beleive I understand why the mistranslation of mamzer=bastard occoured. YOu see znut makes a mamzer. Harlotry makes a bastard. Therefore because of that similarity the two where translated as being equal (which they are not as the ramban makes clear is his on "you shall not give your daughter to znut... kedoshim tihiyu".

I thought you might enjoy those. :-)

for now, just remember potions of giant growth and quite usefull for pelting suicidal dwarves at fleeing monsters :-)

4/06/2007 2:31 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

[reminder to self {really} for later: tarbes]

4/07/2007 3:35 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Maybe it's not derekh eretz in the first place to go around claiming that Eiliyahu Hanavi’ taught you esoterics?

You're right about sex in the proper context being holy, but that's not the impression that is given by all the ever-increasing stringencies that have been promulgated recently that aim at keeping males and females as far away from each other as possible all the time; it seems fearful and/or demonizing to the part of human life that is supposed to be associated with the normal-and-holy.

And in response to suicidal dwarves, read this response i got from a coworker to my praise of Sefardic soft matza:
From the Frum DM's guide: "Yekke-litvak suffer d20+4 point loss to heritage points per soft matzah consumed. Gebrokst multiplier *2. Must consume 2d4 kzaisim whole maror to save family name."



waiting... ;-)

4/08/2007 9:16 AM  
Blogger Halfnutcase said...

Probably not, but I suspect anyone who actualy had experianced it would have been to afraid to say anything less the men come in the white coats, or black ones either way suits me just fine. ;-)

but I think that most people for whom this was asserted generaly had this ascribed to them, not that they themselves said it, somethings you just don't say.

(note to frum DMG: alternative may be found by belittling 1d4 chassidim every hour for the next 3d2 hours.)

4/08/2007 1:00 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

alternative may be found by belittling 1d4 chassidim every hour for the next 3d2 hours

Oh, that's just mean. :-P

4/08/2007 1:25 PM  
Anonymous mar gavriel said...

Anyway, it's not just [your brother] who makes the connection between וידע א-להים and והאדם ידע. It's the Ritv"a. He also points out that what goes on between husband and wife is that which "only Elohim knows".

4/11/2007 4:00 PM  
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